Most of U.S. Bishops' June Meeting to Be behind Closed Doors

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service
Downloaded June 17, 2003

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Votes on a new catechetical directory and revised diaconate directory will dominate the public agenda when the U.S. bishops meet June 19-21 in St. Louis, but most of the meeting will be held behind closed doors, with media and observers excluded.

In open sessions, the bishops will also hear an update on the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

They will be asked to approve plans to develop several future statements on topics ranging from agriculture to the formation of lay ecclesial ministers, from collaboration of women and clergy to educating Catholics on the importance of missionary work.

Only the morning sessions June 19 and June 21 will be open to media and observers. The afternoon session June 19 and both sessions June 20 will be executive sessions, open only to the bishops themselves. Depending on how quickly the public business is conducted the morning of June 19, reporters and observers may be asked to leave that session early as well.

The bishops usually devote a half-day of their June meeting to an executive session.

But they agreed last November to devote a full day this June to long-range preparations for their June 2004 special assembly in Denver.

At the 2004 assembly, a longer meeting than the usual spring business meeting, they are expected to reach a decision on whether to convene the first U.S. plenary church council in more than a century. The last such meeting was the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884.

A group of bishops proposed a new plenary council last July, following the bishops' June 2002 meeting in Dallas to deal with the clergy sexual abuse crisis. They argued that beneath the crisis are deeper issues of holiness, priestly celibacy and sound sexual morality that the U.S. bishops need to address, and they suggested a plenary council to help them address those issues more fully.

Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein was named to head an ad hoc committee to consider the idea.

In a report last November he outlined an 18-month process for the bishops to consider the idea, beginning with a full day this June devoted just to "reflection and deliberation" on the topic, and coming to a decision on the proposal the following June in Denver.

Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis, chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, is to speak about the sexual abuse crisis and the bishops' response in an oral report June 21.

The issue made more national news during the week preceding the meeting when former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating announced that he would resign as head of the bishops' National Review Board, which is monitoring the bishops' response to clergy sexual abuse. Keating's announcement followed controversy over his remark in an interview that some bishops were acting "like La Cosa Nostra" in secretiveness about the sexual abuse problem.

The two major action items facing the bishops in St. Louis are:

-- Approval of a 357-page "National Directory for Catechesis." Replacing the 1979 national catechetical directory, "Sharing the Light of Faith," the new directory is to take into account numerous developments since then, including wide experience with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and publication of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" and several other major catechetical documents by the Holy See.

-- Approval of a 217-page revised "National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States," a normative document replacing U.S. guidelines for the permanent diaconate that were issued in 1984.

The bishops approved an earlier version of the diaconate directory in 2000, but it did not receive the necessary confirmation from the Holy See. After reviewing it, the Vatican asked for more than 200 revisions -- many of them minor editorial changes but some more substantive ones aimed at emphasizing the distinct clerical status of the ordained permanent deacon.

Preliminary presentations on the two directories are to be made June 19 and the final debate and vote on them is to take place June 21.

During their public sessions the bishops will also be asked to approve:

-- A Committee on the Laity request to begin developing a document on the formation and preparation of ecclesial lay ministers.

-- A Committee on Women in Society and in the Church request to develop a statement on the collaboration of women and clergy.

-- An Ad Hoc Committee on Agriculture Issues request to begin developing a statement on agriculture.

-- A Committee on World Mission request to begin a document aimed at increasing American Catholics' awareness of the importance of the church's missionary work.

The meeting agenda also calls for the bishops to hear a report on the status of ministry to Native American Catholics and a report on the New Covenant initiative, a movement launched in 1995 by the National Coalition of Catholic Health Care Ministry to strengthen local, regional and national collaboration among Catholic healing and caring ministries.


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